‘Unprecedented’: US Congress passes massive Ukraine aid package

Backed by President Joe Biden, the spending bill will provide nearly $40bn to support the Ukrainian war effort against Russia.

Sunlight shines on the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington.
United States lawmakers have expressed staunch support for Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the country [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – The United States Congress has approved a nearly $40bn military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine, an “unprecedented” sum that US legislators say will help the country defend against Russia’s continued invasion.

The bill, previously passed by the House of Representatives, passed in the Senate on Thursday by an overwhelming 86-to-11 vote, sending the measure to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The massive aid package signals a major escalation of US backing for Ukraine after nearly three months of war, analysts told Al Jazeera.

“The scale is unprecedented and speaks – in terms of the US perspective – to the earthquake presented by the current circumstances in Europe,” said Elias Yousif, a research analyst at the Stimson Center, a think-tank in Washington, DC.

The legislation provides $6bn for weapons, training and financial support for Ukraine’s military and $4bn in military financing over the next five months through the end of September, according to a House Committee on Appropriations summary of the legislation.

It also includes $9bn to replenish US stocks of weapons being sent to Ukraine and nearly $4bn for expanded US military operations in Europe.

Pallets of ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine are loaded on a plane by members from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base.
Pallets of ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine are loaded on a plane at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the US in January [File: Senior Airman Stephani Barge/US Air Force handout via AP]

The bill commits $8.76bn in economic support for Ukraine’s government and more than $5bn to address the expanding global food shortages and rising prices caused by the conflict.

Notably, $119m is set aside to fund US agencies to trace and seize financial assets, yachts and other sanctioned property of Russian oligarchs.

“When you look at the nature and content of the US security assistance, it has been escalatory,” Yousif told Al Jazeera. “It’s gone from single-man, shoulder-fired weapons to heavy artillery, rotary wing aircraft, more amoured personnel carriers and some very advanced, unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Combined with previous announcements of US aid to Ukraine, the new funding brings the total of US assistance to more than $50bn since the war started in late February.

That far exceeds the more than $3.8bn in annual security assistance the US provides to Israel, the largest recipient of American military aid.

“There’s really nothing comparable in recent history,” said William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, who warned of potential risks.

“The question becomes, how is Moscow going to react?” Hartung told Al Jazeera. “It’s dangerous ground just how quickly the weapons are moving, the volume of it and the limited questions being asked about what policy this is in service of.”

The Senate vote on Thursday came as Biden hosted Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto at the White House.

The US is backing bids by both European nations to join the NATO alliance.

Biden applauded Senate approval of the bill and announced another US transfer of weapons to Ukraine, including radars and artillery.

“These weapons and equipment will go directly to the front lines of freedom in Ukraine, and reiterate our strong support for the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country against Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Biden said in a White House statement.

Support for Ukraine and NATO expansion runs deep in the US Congress, where the conflict with Russia is seen as a must-win test of the trans-Atlantic partnership the US has built with Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“When I think of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attacks on Ukraine, I can’t help but think that the Baltics would have fallen to Putin and his aggression long ago if he had his way,” Senator Richard Durbin said in a Senate speech on Wednesday.

“What held him back was not just the courage of the people who live there but the fact they had many friends willing to stand behind them, members of the EU and members of the NATO alliance,” said Durbin, whose mother was born in Lithuania.

Some US legislators have raised concerns about the high cost of the legislation. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, had delayed Senate passage of the bill for a week over objections to the cost. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the US economy,” he said.

Soldiers shoot from a howitzer during training at a German army base on a NATO media day, in which up to 7,500 soldiers from 9 nations take part, in Munster, Germany.
Soldiers shoot from a howitzer during training at a German army base in Munster, Germany earlier this month [Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]

The new aid package “is implicitly a statement that this is going to go on for a long time and the United States is going to continue to support Ukraine”, said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another think-tank in the US capital.

The US has sent about 18,000 troops to reinforce Eastern European countries in NATO since the war began. They are bolstered by additional German, British and Canadian forces.

Buried in the text of the Ukrainian aid package passed by Congress is $600m to help US defence contractors build missiles faster and procure long-term supplies of rare earth metals used to make advanced weapons, Cancian noted.

Biden had requested $33bn in spending for Ukraine over the next five months, but Congress bumped the amount up to $40bn.

Overall, the bill is “meant to communicate the degree of US investment in the conflict and the perceptions in a number of Western capitals that Ukraine’s prospects for the conflict have improved”, Yousif said.

Source: Al Jazeera